Private Fleming and
Stereotypes of Modern War
Private Henry Fleming is a very unusual soldier, both in the extent to which childish solipsism grips him and in the way his military career unfolds. Yet my impression is that nowadays he appears to be a very typical soldier to most firsttime readers. I am sure that Fleming is often taken to be typical, even archetypal, by many extraordinarily sophisticated readers whose assessments appear in their scholarship and criticism. An example appears in Y. N. Harari's 2005 study of "Martial Illusions: War and Disillusionment in Twentieth-Century and Renaissance Military Memoirs," where he wrote, "On the literary front, Stendahl's Charterhouse of Parma, Tolstoy'sSebastopol in August, 1855 and War and Peace, Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, and several short stories by Ambrose Bierce, all narrate the familiar story of how a young man full of romantic martial dreams is disillusioned by the cruel realities of war."1 This is a succinct example of a phenomenon that is widespread in the contemporary critical estimation of Crane's novel. To understand and appreciate the significant aspects of The Red Badge of Courage that vanish when this template is placed upon it, we will examine four instances in detail.
1. Yuval Noah Harari, "Martial Illusions: War and Disillusionment in Twentieth-century and
Renaissance Military Memoirs."